Wind Star Entertainment
Because these cruises draw an active crowd, the real entertainment happens ashore -- in Costa Rica, for example, there was zip-lining, rafting, hiking and so on. Our cruise featured a local naturalist, Carlos, who offered a detailed talk on the ports and excursions on the first full day of the cruise. If you have questions, it's a good idea to attend. We learned information about a tour we had pre-booked (specifically, that it involved four hours of horseback-riding, when we were expecting just one or two) that prompted us to make a swap, as we had a significant hike planned for the following day; we might not have realized that otherwise, as it wasn't clear in the write-up.
You won't find any Vegas-style shows, a la mainstream mega-ships. But that doesn't mean music and dancing are no-no's. A pianist plays nightly in the Lounge before and after dinner. (That same performer doubles as an electronic keyboardist in the afternoons next to the pool.) He also hosted one "Name That Tune" competition in the Lounge, which ended up a standing-room-only event! Passengers separated into teams to compete for the grand prize -- a bottle of Champagne -- by listening to snippets of songs by Billy Joel, Elton John, the Beatles, Barry Manilow and more, and jotting down the names. The winners pegged an impressive 19 out of 20. (We were told that anything more than 16 is a "good score"; my team made third place with 17 correct.)
There was also one organized party, and this occurred after the poolside BBQ. The pianist-turned-keyboardist donned yet another hat, as deejay, and the crew partook in a couple of well-rehearsed if not perfected line-dances ("Footloose," anyone?). Afterward, passengers took to the deck for the usual crowd favorites like "Love Shack," "Celebrate" and "Hot, Hot, Hot."
Here's a secret, though: The crew will organize a shindig for whoever's willing to stay up and boogie anytime -- not just after the BBQ! The following night, a group of us asked the bar staff to turn up the radio for an impromptu dance party revival, which ended up being very well-attended. (Photo op: Above the Pool Bar on the starboard side is an adorable mini-disco ball that's quite possibly the smallest at sea. It's certainly the smallest we've ever seen!)
Finally, though there's not a huge focus on gambling, there is a small casino off the port side of the Lounge that is open when the ship is at sea. There are nine slot machines in denominations of 25 cents to one dollar, open from about 10 a.m. There are also two gaming tables -- a Caribbean stud poker table ($3 minimum) and a blackjack table ($2) -- open in the evenings and during scheduled tournaments. We never saw more than one passenger in there at a time, except for tourney times.
Wind Star Public Rooms
Passengers board Wind Star on Deck 3, midship, near the reception desk, which doubles as the shore excursions form drop-off area. Reception only keeps certain hours, though you can dial housekeeping for any after-hours assistance. The decor is understated and decidedly nautical, with lots of wood paneling and navy blue fabrics.
Walking aft, you'll find the Signature Shop, a small duty-free shop with just the necessities -- sunscreen, Advil, batteries, film, toothpaste, etc. -- as well as a few gifts that include jewelry, perfume and clothing. Hours fluctuate, and the shop is not open when the ship is docked; check your daily program for opening and closing times. There's also a library with, sadly, only a few shelves of books (the bulk of which is made up of travel guides) and about four times as many DVD's. There are also computer stations in there for connecting to the Internet, though laptop users can access bow-to-stern Wi-Fi. Packages are available from 45 cents per minute, but the connection is -- as is standard at sea -- slow. Consider waiting until you hit an Internet cafe ashore.
All the way aft is the Lounge, which is the ship's primary gathering spot. Our first introduction to the Lounge was during the check-in process, which is quite civilized. You show up at the dock, hand over your luggage and walk up the gangway, which takes mere minutes. Then, you fill out the necessary paperwork in the Lounge, amid complimentary mimosas and passed canapes, rather than in a stuffy terminal. The Lounge is also used as a meeting place for shore tours and to host folkloric performances, lectures, and pre- and post-dinner cocktails and appetizers.
One final "public" space that's a bit of a surprise is the navigation bridge. Wind Star has an open bridge policy, which means you can stop up at pretty much any time to see what the captain and his crew are up to. But, there are a few rules -- don't touch anything chief among them. Only six guests are allowed in the wheelhouse at anytime, and alcoholic beverages are not permitted.
Wind Star Spa & Fitness
You'll find a small, saltwater pool and adjacent hot tub on Deck 4 in front of the Pool Bar; both are open from 7 a.m. until midnight. If you'd like to walk around the deck, eight laps equal a mile. A piece of advice from experience: The best time to fit in that stroll is before 8 a.m. -- before the deck chairs are put out and the sunbathers show up. Early morning is also a great time for watching the crew raise the sails (weather permitting) and spotting dolphins around the ship.
There's a small gym onboard, outfitted with two treadmills, a stepper, an elliptical, a weight machine and some free weights and exercise bands. For more personal training, there is a $225 package of three 45-minute Piloga (a combination of Pilates and yoga found only on Windstar) sessions. You can also meet with a personal trainer for $90, or get your body composition analyzed or schedule a nutritional consultation for $45 each. The fitness center is open from 6 a.m. until midnight. (Ate too many croissants? Besides a fitness scale in the gym, there's also a medical scale in the hallway across the weigh -- or, rather, way -- just outside the infirmary. We avoided it.)
However, our favorite stay-fit feature onboard is the water sports platform, located aft on Deck 2, which is open at certain times when the ship is at anchor (check the daily program for hours; weather conditions permitting). It became a ritual to come back from a busy, hot day and cool off with a few laps in the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Beyond swimming, other activities include kayaking, sailing, water-skiing, windsurfing and diving. Floating mats and tubes were also available on our trip, and you can check out complimentary snorkel equipment to use throughout the cruise, to be returned the day before debarkation.
The Wind Spa, located off the Lounge on the starboard side, received all new soft goods during a 2012 refurbishment and features a salon for hair and nails and two treatment rooms for spa services. The best part of my massage -- which was nice, don't get me wrong -- was the fact that there was no slimy product pitch after the fact.